Community health workers serve to bridge the gap between health care providers and populations in need of care. They are a trusted member and have an understanding of the community they serve. As a link between the patient and the health or social service agencies, community health workers strive to improve health outcomes, access to services and quality of care.
The use of community health workers is a relatively new trend for the health care community in Kansas City. The Kansas City CARE Clinic is proud to have been one of the lead agencies to employ this model locally, and in the two years we have been using community health workers, we have expanded from three part-time employees to six full-time employees.
Our Care Coordination Program works in collaboration with Swope Health Services, Johnson County Health Partnership Clinic, and Saint Luke’s Health System to identify patients who need help navigating the health care system. We help patients who are uninsured, and using the emergency room as their primary care physician. We link them to a primary care provider in the community, then we have a longer-term community health program that works with patients intensively on barriers to their medical care, and finally we offer long-term diabetes education through our community health worker who specializes in diabetes care.
Community health workers not only become a trusted member of a patient’s life, but they impact the medical and social barriers that many of these patients have been dealing with for years. Here are two real-life examples of the impact of the community health workers on our community:
In October 2012, we worked with a patient who had been using the emergency room for routine medical care rather than out of necessity. He was unaware there were local options for affordable health care. With our help, this patient was successful in finding a doctor to replace the emergency room.
In the last year, we have also helped his brother and mother find primary care physicians to replace their emergency room usage. Both family members approached our organization after hearing of this man’s experience with a community health worker.
This family is Spanish-speaking, and without a community health worker to help them make a medical appointment, accompany them to that medical appointment and make sure they understood how to access care in the future, they might not have been successful finding a doctor for care. They now feel secure knowing where to go and are committed to not using the emergency room, unless it is a true emergency.
Our second example is of a patient who was originally admitted to the hospital and then transferred to care with one of our longer term community health workers. This patient was seen at Truman Medical Centers’ emergency department and transferred to Saint Luke’s Health System because of stroke-like symptoms. In addition to the sudden onset of meningitis, the patient had uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia.
At patient’s first appointment following discharge, she was linked with a community health worker. The patient was scared of going into the appointment by herself and unsure of how to communicate with the medical provider. The community health worker attended the appointment with the patient. The patient was still recovering from the side effects of meningitis and had a hard time understanding the changes she needs to make to help control diabetes. The patient was relieved to have someone help recall her medical history and take notes for any upcoming appointments.
This community health worker has been meeting the patient in her home for weekly diabetes education. The patient’s family has started attending these sessions and she now has a network of people learning about her diabetes and helping her make changes.
With the help of her community health worker, the patient feels more confident in her medical situation, instead of overwhelmed.
The Kansas City CARE Clinic has been a leader in our city on using community health workers in innovate ways to impact health care. This model is gaining traction in our region, and is recognized across the country as a best practice to help patients obtain better health care, improve health outcomes and reduce costs to our partners and the community.